Charlotte Bobcats and CRVA want $41.9 million from Charlotte to update Time Warner Cable Arena

The team's scheduled renovation proposal for more public funds is sure to raise eyebrows in Charlotte considering the building's youth and the Carolina Panthers' recent grant from the city.

When Time Warner Cable Arena was built eight and a half years ago, the contract between the city of Charlotte and the Bobcats held an agreement that the team and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority would make a review of the building's recommended updates after the arena had been around seven years.

In 2011, the Bobcats hired Populous, an architectural firm, to assess possible renovations. Populous, based in Kansas City, Mo, was also contracted to make consultations with the Carolina Panthers on their stadium upgrades and previously won the contract to prepare Time Warner Cable Arena for the Democratic National Convention in 2012. They also previously designed the stadium formerly known as Ericsson.

The CRVA, which co-manages the building with the Bobcats, requested $7.8 million over the next five years. The Bobcats added $34.1 million in improvements over the next four years to the proposal. The suggested renovations haven't been explicitly detailed yet, but the Charlotte Observer reports they would include improved suites, restaurants, and moving the ticket office. The Charlotte Business Journal's Erik Spanberg reports that it also includes updated furniture, fixtures and equipment, interior renovations, and more efficient technology.

Time Warner Cable Arena is the third-newest arena in the NBA, with only Brooklyn's Barclays Center (2012) and Orlando's Amway Center (2010) constructed more recently.

Still, the lease requires the Bobcats and the CRVA to give these proposals as agreed upon in the lease with Charlotte, so as to "maintain economic competitiveness and revenue potential" in keeping it among the most modern NBA arenas. There is a catch that the city can't be asked to pay for improvements that half of NBA arenas already had when the arena agreement was signed nearly a decade ago.

The proposed costs and upgrades have yet to be vetted and, as Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble said, they still have to go through negotiations to determine what the city is obligated to pay for.

As the Observer details, the Bobcats, the CRVA and the city have a complex relationship:

The city paid for and owns the building. The CRVA operates "back of the house" functions such as HVAC, and is reimbursed for those services by the Bobcats.

And the Bobcats are not only the main tenant, but they operate the building as well. They book other events, such as concerts, and are allowed to keep operating profits but must also absorb losses if they don't have enough events.

That last part can prove a bit difficult. The Bobcats don't have to worry about 41 nights of the year, but the other 324 they must compete with other venues for high profile concerts and events or face financial struggles in the form of operating losses. As great as arenas are at holding people, they're not always great for acoustics considering the vast space and concrete walls. But I digress.

Arena funding has always been a touchy subject, considering how so many of them are constructed or renovated with public funds. The NBA, of course, is a big proponent of municipal governments paying for their houses, which appear to be trending up with Amway's $480+ million cost and Barclays' unfathomable billion-dollar construction budget.

The crux of the argument is that pro-public funding supporters champion arenas as helping implement economic development in an area, be that a neighborhood or drawing visitors from beyond city lines into town. Opponents note the risky economics of arena finance (often funded with long term bonds) and iffy returns on public investment when the tax money could be going elsewhere rather than private entities.

These issues have come up recently for Charlotte already because the Panthers were granted $87.5 million from the city for its own renovations in exchange for a six-year hard tether with the city, as well as five rent-free days of stadium use. Per the Observer, funding for it came from the Convention Center fund, which is in turn funded by a hotel/motel tax and a prepared foods tax.

Funding for the Bobcats renovations, should the city agree to them, could also come from tourism-related taxes, but that's a bridge the city will cross when it comes to it.

As for now, the city is set to begin discussion about the Time Warner Cable Arena proposed improvements on April 9.

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